Japan’s Hiroshi Iwata is one step closer to making his return to The Open Championship after a four-under-par 68 saw him take the first round lead at The Open Qualifying Series – Thailand event.
The two-day 36-hole qualifier at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi has brought together an international field of 75 players from 17 countries who are vying for one of four places at The Open which will be held at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake from 17-20 July.
Thailand’s Prom Meesawat and Singapore’s Koh Dengshan are also in position to qualify for The Open after posting three-under-par 69s to share second place with Spain’s Carlos Pigem and Japan’s Akinori Tani.
Iwata made his Major Championship debut at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and is looking to return to The Open to take on the world’s best players after a six-year absence.
“It’s every professional’s dream to play at The Open and I’m no different. I missed the cut when I played in The Open Championship in 2008. Hopefully I can make my return again this year and do better,” he said.
Iwata delivered a blemish-free round on Thursday amidst blustery conditions, carding four birdies on the 7th, 11th, 13th and 15th holes.
“It was such a great round of golf today. Everything worked to my advantage and I’m proud to be able to lead under such windy conditions,” said the 33-year-old.
Koh also had a day to remember by signing for a 69 in his first outing at Amata Spring. The Singaporean is drawing inspiration from fellow countrymen Mardan Mamat and Chih-Bing Lam to keep his Open hopes alive.
“It would be a dream come true if I can get to play in a Major in this lifetime. I draw a lot of inspiration knowing that Mardan and Chih Bing have both played in The Open Championship and it would be something I will really cherish if I get a chance to do so,” said Koh.
Mamat holed his tee shot at the par three 210-yard 13th hole using a five iron. The Asian Tour veteran has played in The Open Championship on three occasions and sits tied for 15th heading into Friday’s final round.
Home hope Meesawat carded four birdies against a single bogey to stay on course for his second Open appearance. The Hua Hin, Thailand native won the International Final Qualifying event at Amata Spring in 2011 to play in The Open at Royal St George’s.
“I think that the Thai players here this week will have an advantage since we are familiar with the course and the weather this week at Amata Spring. This qualifier creates a wonderful opportunity for Thai players that have the dream to play with world class golfers and represent Thailand at The Open,” said Meesawat.
Two former runners-up in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship are in the field this week: Taiwan’s Cheng-Tsung Pan and Japan’s Shohei Hasegawa. Pan finished runner-up at the 2012 championship at Amata Spring and his familiarity with the course helped him to a two-under-par 70 on Thursday, just two strokes off the lead. Hasegawa struggled with his putter to post a seven-over-par 79.
The four players that qualify for The Open this week will join Australians John Senden, Rhein Gibson and Bryden Macpherson who qualified at the Emirates Australian Open in November 2013. George Coetzee and Justin Walters of South Africa and Jin Jeong of South Korea secured the three places on offer at The Joburg Open in South Africa in February